Proposed housing project at San Jose’s Blossom Hill station would help fund transit
Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority plans to lease land to a developer to build housing on a portion of the parking lot at Blossom Hill light rail station. Courtesy of Green Republic LLC.

    The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is looking to build 328 apartments at the Blossom Hill light rail station in south San Jose, with revenue from the development to be used to fund transit operations.

    “It’s all about generating revenue and riders in order to reinvest into our existing transit system,” said Kelly Snider, VTA’s project manager for the development.

    The apartments will be built on seven acres on Blossom Hill Road and Canoas Creek. The land is currently occupied by a parking lot for bus and light rail users and will be developed as part of the agency’s Joint Development program.

    The program, in which the agency partners with cities and private developers, requires at least 20% of units be leased below market and reserved for low-income residents. But in this case there will be 89.

    The apartments also are part of VTA’s transit-oriented development program, which includes 25 properties throughout the county owned by the agency that are near transit stops and large enough to accommodate housing.

    “We are not selling the property; we are not allowed to sell the property,” Snider said. “This will continue to be a public asset owned and operated by VTA.”

    The agency held its first community meeting on the project in January 2018. According to Snider, the agency has submitted plans to San Jose’s Planning Department for review. The project is scheduled to undergo an environmental review process in October, after which VTA plans to finalize the building details in the spring.

    The apartments will be built by Green Republic Blossom Hill LLC, which is a joint venture between Swenson Builders, affordable housing developer EAH Housing and Republic Urban Properties, a privately-owned real estate investment, development and management firm.

    Melissa Durkin, vice president of development at Republic Urban Properties, said the land is part of an Urban Village plan that has yet to be approved. Such plans must include commercial space, “enhanced” architecture and sufficient open space available for public use.

    In addition to the apartments, the Blossom Hill development will feature 15,000 square feet of commercial retail space and 212 parking spaces. Most of the below-market apartments will be reserved for people earning roughly 30% of the area median income. The median household income in Santa Clara County is about $126,000, according to Data USA.

    Lola Torney, transportation planner for VTA, said the project is only the second in the transit-oriented program to have undergone a transit access study, which analyzes how easily residents can use transit to get to other areas in the county.

    The first project, at Tamien Station, east of Highway 87 between the Willow Glen and Alma neighborhoods, will also be built by Republic Urban Properties and CORE Development. Though the number of apartments to be built for that project hasn’t been decided, land use regulations permit up to 569 units and 3,000 square feet of commercial retail space.

    Residents tuned into a community meeting Sept. 9 and expressed concerns about traffic, safety, building height and whether the development could attract homelessness to the neighborhood.

    Eugene Bradley, founder of Silicon Valley Transit Users, pointed out that the frequency of the bus route near the development is insufficient to serve the needs of residents and asked whether disabled residents would have units available to them on or near the ground floor.

    The market-rate and below-market units will be in separate buildings. The market-rate building will be six stories while the below-market will be five stories.

    Scott Johnson, director of business development at EAH Housing, said the affordable and market-rate tenants are housed in separate buildings because of how state and federal funds are allocated to affordable housing projects. Both the state and federal government rely on specially-restricted deeds, which are attached to specific properties, to inform them of which projects are eligible for funding.

    The below-market and market-rate portions of the proposed housing project at VTA’s Blossom Hill light rail station will be in separate buildings. Courtesy of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

    A resident asked if the below-market tenants would have access to the same amenities as the market-rate tenants.

    Melanie Griswold, an attorney with Republic Urban Properties, said the developer would offer the amenities to EAH Housing to use, though it would be up to them to decide whether they can manage affordable housing tenants’ use of those amenities.

    “It will be offered to our affordable partner but it’s ultimately up to our affordable partner who’s going to be operating and managing the building,” Griswold said. “There’s operational challenges to that.”

    Johnson said EAH is planning to enable affordable housing tenants to use the pool and other amenities offered to market-rate tenants, but hasn’t yet worked out the details. Johnson noted that the pool is considered an “interior amenity,” located within the complex of the market-rate building.

    “We are at the very initial stages of our public approvals,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to be fully approved by the City of San Jose… until well into 2021.”

    To contact the developer for questions for comments, go to the project website.

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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